Several recent graduates of the University’s graduate program in forensic technology, a first-of-its-kind program, reflect on how their time as Chargers prepared them to excel in their careers.
December 22, 2021
Micaila Barone ’19, ’21 M.S. still remembers when she was in high school, following the unexpected death of someone she knew. It left her – and many others – with questions. Because there was a lot they did not understand, they did not have closure. After that, she knew she wanted to be able to help give closure to others who have lost a loved one.
Barone, who says she has long looked up to a family member who is a police officer, went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of New Haven, and then a master’s degree in forensic technology. Now an evidence control technician for the FBI Boston Division, she is living out her dream of being able to offer closure to families.
“My time in the forensic technology program was two of the best years of my life,” she said. “I met some of the best people through this program, from the students to the professors. What I liked best was how hands-on it was. I decided to pursue a degree in forensic technology because I love working with evidence, and this degree focuses on the evidence aspect of crime scene investigation.”
The first of its kind graduate-level forensic science program, the University’s M.S. in forensic technology combines the field of forensic science with cutting-edge technology. The program is a great fit for students such as Barone who have an undergraduate degree in a discipline such as criminal justice or forensic science, as well as novice crime scene investigators and technicians. It is also geared toward police officers and those who are interested in a career in crime scene investigation or in the medical examiner and coroner fields.
‘It didn’t look like a rookie’s work’
Melissa O'Donnell ’21 M.S. had studied criminal justice as an undergraduate student, and though she did not have a science background, she was grateful that she did not need to earn another undergraduate degree before beginning the forensic technology program. She says it was an “easy transition” from undergraduate to graduate school.
O’Donnell, who landed her first job offer shortly after graduating, now works with the Wichita Police Department as a crime scene investigator. She says it is “surreal” to work with detectives who helped capture Dennis Lynn Rader, an infamous serial killer who is well-known as “BTK.”
“The program covers so much that I’ve already been exposed to in the field,” she said. “After my first report with photography, the sergeant commented that it didn’t look like a rookie’s work! Having the capacity to fit right in and excel immediately is the best feeling.”
‘The tools necessary to stand out’
Students are trained in the latest forensic field technology, such as laser scanners, portable instruments, ground penetrating radar, and biometric devices, as well as other instruments that are critical to investigations. Students learn from faculty who have years of real-world experience in the field.
For Jade Sodon ’21 M.S., it was her professors’ experience that was especially impactful to her as a student. Now a crime scene technician within the Criminal Investigations Division of the Tacoma Police Department, she moved across the country after graduating to pursue her dream. She now documents crime scenes, locates and recovers trace evidence, and collects, preserves, and maintains the integrity of evidence in the field and in the laboratory. She says she “could not be happier” with her decision.
Sodon says the forensic technology program ensured she felt prepared for her role. She cites courses such as “Forensic Photography,” “Advanced Crime Scene Investigation,” and “Forensic Field Technology” as particularly valuable.
“These courses provided me with a wealth of information vital in the processing of various crime scenes, from the first walkthrough to the time you release the scene,” she explains. “The professors not only provided us with real-life examples, they often had us perform hands-on activities, furthering our understanding of the material.
“Without the support of my professors and their constant push for us to strive to be better, I would not possess the confidence I have today,” she continues. “Together they provided me with the tools necessary to stand out, not only on paper, but during the interview process.”
‘I am so glad I followed my passion’
As part of the program, students take electives that enable them to develop specialized knowledge in fields such as wildlife forensics, firearm evidence analysis, and forensic anthropology. It was one of those electives – “Bloodstain Pattern Analysis” that was particularly impactful for Nicole Charbonneau ’21 M.S.
During her three years of working full-time in the emergency department of a hospital, she became interested in forensic science when she saw forensics teams come in to collect evidence from trauma patients, such as those who had suffered gunshot or stab wounds. Intrigued, she began to explore a career in the field of forensic science.
Now a forensic technician for the Connecticut Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Charbonneau says the opportunities she had as a student, including her internship with the Waterbury Police Department’s forensic division, helped prepare her.
“I am so glad I followed my passion,” she said. “The forensic technology program also helped me build professional relationships with those already in the field, through the professors and through my internship. My love for the field of forensics only grew stronger as I got a glimpse of my future in the field.”
‘Go for it. You won’t regret it’
As part of the program, students complete an internship or a research project with the support of the University’s strong connections with local and state police, as well as the state medical examiner.
It was this hands-on experience that was especially meaningful for Meredith Narowski '18, '20 M.S. While working with the Connecticut State Police’s K9 Training Unit, she was part of the team that created a groundbreaking program to help police train canines to detect guns and spent shell casings. She focused her research on developing a protocol to train police canines, determining which post-discharge organic compounds should be chosen to train the dogs.
Narowski, formerly an identification specialist for the Raleigh/Wake City-County Bureau of Identification in Raleigh, NC, was recently promoted to crime scene investigator, which she describes as her “dream career.”
“It is so surreal that everything I worked for is literally at my fingertips,” she said. “I honestly cannot say enough amazing things about the forensic technology program at the University.
“It is everything I could have ever asked for to prepare me to be a crime scene investigator,” she continued. “My education is something I never take for granted, and the connections I made with the professors are connections I know I will maintain throughout my professional career. Anyone who is on the fence about this program should go for it. You won’t regret it.”